MONTREAL NEIGHBORHOOD 101: LITTLE BURGUNDY

Posted on October 27th, 2010 by .

We started our neighbourhood 101 series with the Plateau before heading south to St-Henri. When picking the next one, it made sense to simply take a quick stroll west through the Atwater market over to Little Burgundy, a neighbourhood rich with history, whose recent revitalization has been due in large part to the strength of its restaurants…

Little Burgundy was originally a town known as Sainte-Cunegonde that became part of the city of Montreal around the turn of the century. It was home to the Canadian Pacific Railway yards and the Steel Company of Canada, companies for whom many of its residents worked. It was home to most of Montreal’s black working-class citizens. For such a small neighbourhood, it has produced a remarkably high number of Montreal’s most beloved and respected citizens. It boasts two Governor Generals- Michaëlle Jean, who spent part of her childhood in the area and George Vanier, who grew up near the street and metro station now named for him. But one of the area’s most important contributions to the city has been in the area of music. It was home to some of the best nightclubs in the city, like Rockhead’s Paradise, which would regularly have jazz legends like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Sammy Davis Jr. up on stage. It makes sense, therefore, that two of Canada’s most respected jazz musicians, Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson, grew up in Little Burgundy. The connection to music has remained- the international music label Ninja Tune has its North American offices in the neighbourhood.

The Atwater Market marks where St-Henri ends and Little Burgundy begins. From there, it stretches to Mountain Street in the east and is delineated by the Lachine Canal to the south and Saint-Antoine in the north. But if we’re talking about streets, none is more prominent that Notre Dame West, which functions as the neighbourhood’s main artery. Though many people talk about the gentrification of Montreal’s residential areas, Little Burgundy is one of the few that you notice immediately. The reopening of the Lachine Canal for pleasure boating (a term I absolutely love) helped and there are new developments everywhere. Since I don’t live in the neighbourhood, I’m not going to comment on what this is or isn’t doing for the neighbourhood. I do, however, visit fairly regularly to eat and/or drink and the list below should convince you pretty clearly why this is one of the more interesting neighbourhood’s in the area…

JOE BEEF: Joe Beef, Liverpool House, McKiernan: The owners and chefs of this trio of restaurants, Frédéric Morin and David McMillan, named their flagship resto after a legendary Montreal tavern owner whose establishment was filled not only with working class patrons, but a zoo’s worth of animals, including a bear said to drink up to 20 pints of beer a day. If this New York Times review from 1881 is to be believed, it sure sounded like a good time. While they may not be quite as wild as the namesake, all three spots are unpretentious, imbued their own distinct personalities and serve some of the best food in the city.

BURGUNDY LION: Right across the street is the Burgundy Lion, a pub with a modern feel that serves as a community meeting point. They regularly host great DJ and Quiz nights and their food is no joke: pub grub 2.0.

RESTAURANT JANE: If the Joe Beef trifecta are the area’s culinary stars, Jane is the up-and-coming food star. Though they rotate the very appealing chalkboard specials, the real draw here is the next-level pizza and cocktails. The fact that chef Ryan Dixon calls it an “Italo-American-Jewish-deli-bistro-pizza joint” should tell you that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

LE BOUCAN: If you want some straight-up, authentic BBQ in a place that will always have the hockey game on, this is the spot for you. The  “5 napkin” hamburger and the massive multi-animal Pit Bull platters are favorites of the regulars, but if you’d like to learn a little more check out this Food Network follow-up to their recent TV appearance.

BONNYS: After the meat-frenzy of Boucan, it seems fitting that I mention Bonnys, Montreal’s best veggie and vegan-friendly restaurant, takeout spot and catering service.

PARISIAN LAUNDRY: It’s not just food in Little Burgundy, in case you were getting that impression for some reason. This gallery hosts art exhibits and concerts but the space itself is as much of a draw- built in 1933, it was actually originally used as a commercial  laundry complex and, after a recent overhaul, has become one the city’s most interesting spaces.

QUARTIER DES ANTIQUAIRES: As befitting the “Antiques Quarter” name, this area boasts one of the largest concentrations of antiques shops in the country. Spots like Milford Antiques, Rowntree, Old Time Antiques are just a few of the many spots to antiquing.

CORONA THEATRE: This historic theatre right in the heart of everything has found new life playing host to as eclectic a lineup of events as any place in the city can boast: you’ll find everything from dance to theatre to hip hop nights.

CAFE LILY ET OLI: Great coffee in a really relaxed place is about all the upselling this spot needs.

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